Being a Speed Demon

If there’s one thing that I absolute love in games, it is the ability to strip them down to their bare essentials. In essence, that means tearing down aesthetics to improve speed or ease of play. It’s a habit that I had grown accustomed to back when I used to play Q1 — to this day I try to make games as ugly as possible just to squeeze in that extra framerate boost. Fortunately, my habit has also allowed me to play more modern games on a notoriously defunct PC. I still don’t understand why SC2 runs so well on my current PC.

Performance issues aside, though, I also enjoy being able to ‘play my game’ and not have to watch it at times. Considering that the majority of the games I play are a form of RPG, I run into a lot of issues where I find myself watching more than playing … and I don’t just mean the cutscenes. As far as I’m concerned, Final Fantasy 7 really stirred things up with their over-the-top summons … and while Final Fantasy 8 made ‘better’ use of the summon animation time (if you consider mashing the Square button a good thing), they remained unskippable until later FF iterations.

It’s true, sometimes we just want to skip the pleasantries and get on with our lives. I’ve dived into the past of gaming lately, and playing some games makes me wish that we could keep all the fantastic visuals that artists work so hard at, while allowing us the opportunity to skip if necessary. Even while playing Final Fantasy 6, a 2D RPG off of a cartridge that has quick loads and simple animations — I found myself groaning every time I knew that I would have to pull off an “Ultima – Quick – Ultima – Ultima – Ultima – Ultima” chain with a character. This became more clear to me when I found myself in a hurry to be out the door for the evening, while I was in the middle of a long battle sequence. The animations still take time. Granted, skipping animations would definitely have an impact on the ATB combat system, but nothing that would break the game anymore than it already is as far as difficulty is concerned. And there are ways of making visuals elegantly simple; Okami for one, but as another RPG example we have Final Fantasy 13, which was gorgeous during battle sequences but very fast-paced and not so bogged down with lengthy animation sequences, save for that title’s “Limit Break”-esque attacks, which had necessary lengths to correctly affect the stun gauges.

But still, take one of the most basic, simple RPGs out there . . . Pokemon. You can skip the battle animations, which offers a completely streamlined experience for min/maxers that enjoy the combat system without having to see the same 5 to 10 second animations every time they issue a command. That is how RPGs need to be designed. Sometimes I do feel like sitting back, relaxing and just watching cinematic sequences, but other times I just want to get on and keep playing. I don’t think that it’s an unreasonable request, especially for most RPGs where your interface is limited to menus and context-sensitive button presses. Dragon Quest had done well for a full 7 games before they got bogged down by 8’s battle animations, and I was very impressed by the speed of Dragon Quest 4 for the DS.

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